It was until I took my yoga teacher training at the Nosara Yoga Institute in 2002 that I first heard the word “bandha.” The teaching on the Moola (or mula) Bandha blew my mind. I felt as if I had suddenly entered a mystery school and was receiving a secret esoteric teaching on mastering life. Indeed, the most respected text on the subject, published in 1978 by Swami Buddhananda, is titled Moola Bandha: The Master Key.
In Sanskrit, bandhas can be translated as lock, and refers to an energetic and muscular constriction of a particular region of the body. They can also be thought of as valves that taper and direct the flow of pranic energy within the body.
The master key of Swami Buddhananda refers to the unlocking of the mental, pranic and subtle bodies that happens through the use of the three major bandhas of the body: the moola (root), uddiyana (upward flying) and jalandhara (upward flying net) bandhas. When performed together it is called the maha bandha or great lock. Essentially, the mula bandhas, practiced through engaging the muscles of the pelvic floor, blocks the uncontrolled flow of prana through the base of the torso and instead contains the energy in the upper body, and helps to unlock the kundalini energy dormant at the base of the spine. The uddiyana bandha, practiced by engaging the core muscles, takes the energy contained by the action of the mula bandhas and harnesses it in the body’s energetic core, creating stability and strength. The jalandhara bandha (which is performed less often) is practiced by tucking the chin towards the chest and engaging the neck muscles and thus sealing the pranic energy in torso.
For Ashtangis, the mula and uddiyana bandhas are probably very common terms and techniques, as the bandhas are required elements to evolving in Ashtanga yoga. In other forms of vinyasa yoga the bandhas are often discussed and practiced sporadically and in not great detail, though it is highly beneficial to have an understanding of the bandhas and how they can be used to enhance your yoga journey. To locate and begin to experience your bandhas energetically you can view an excerpt from my class Headstand Flow (a pose that is much supported by the use of the bandhas).